One of the hardest things to do when trying to put diet culture behind you is learning to listen – and trusting – your body again. We’re constantly inundated with images and statements of needing to shrink and tone and tuck – lose weight so “just eat less”. If you’ve ever been on a diet – and let’s face it, who hasn’t been on a diet? They’re everywhere and are often under the guise of “this isn’t a diet but a lifestyle”, and “the anti-diet diet”… but if you’ve been on a diet you know how damaging it is not only to your body but psyche.
After a while, we learn not to trust our judgement. When we get hungry, we’re told to drink some water. We’re taught that being hungry is a good thing – that starving our bodies of food will force it to use stored energy to continue functioning. We’re taught that in order to be worthy, we need to be small and in order to be small we need to starve ourselves.
However, thousands of women have resoundingly cried out against this belief. Thousands of women are fighting against diet culture; that they are worthy NOW! They deserve love and respect NOW! They are taking back their power NOW! Instead of looking for love, acceptance, validation outwardly, they are turning that inward because no one EVER should hold that power over another person.
The hardest part, once you’ve turned your back on that culture, is learning to trust yourself again – especially when you do, really, want to lose weight and become more active and healthier. There’s a big misconception that to be anti-diet you have to reject all diets and not be on a diet. However, it’s diet CULTURE that’s the problem, not necessarily the act of dieting – if it’s done correctly. Diet, by definition, is either what one habitually eats, or a special course of food which one restricts oneself either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
Developing a diet (what you habitually eat) that satisfies your requirements, tastes, and lifestyle can be hard – especially if you’re wanting to lose weight. It’s about creating meals and/or meal plans that are nutritionally dense yet won’t create an excess which results in being stored. When it comes right down to it, eating healthy is simple – limit processed foods, reduce salt and sugar intake, eat more whole foods, more fruits and vegetables, drink more water – but it’s not easy!
One thing you need to do is listen to your hunger cues which can be VERY difficult to do when recovering from years or decades of constant damage-dieting. Damage-dieting (linked to diet culture) is when you go on a commercially trendy restrictive eating plan. If it’s cutting out a macro nutrient, it’s damaging. If you can’t see yourself eating how it’s telling you to eat for years, it’s damaging. Your body requires every single macro nutrient – carbs, protein, and fat. Without them, you’re doing your body a disservice. But on the flip side, too many of them and you’re also doing your body a disservice. It’s a fine line to walk that can take a while to get right.
One thing that has helped me is knowing what the nutrients do and the digestion process. For instance, carbs take about 30 minutes to digest, protein 2 hours, and fat 4 hours. With that information, you know that eating something with fat will keep you fuller for longer. Doesn’t mean to eat a tonne of fat because it’s most nutritionally dense (has the most calories) so eating too much may result in storing extra calories. However, for instance, if you have oatmeal for breakfast, how do you feel after? You may feel full initially because of the fiber – but how soon after eating it are you hungry again? If you find yourself hungry after 30-60 minutes, try modifying your oatmeal – add some fruit (natural sugar instead of processed sweetener), add some seeds and/or nuts (healthy fat), some natural granola, and maybe some Greek yogurt (protein) and it’ll be more nutritionally well-rounded.
If you’re hungry to the point of angry stomach grumbling, look at when you ate last. If you just ate and it’s still going, look at what and how you ate. Eating too fast doesn’t allow your stomach to release the satiety secretions to cue you to stop eating. Maybe it’s not that you’re still hungry but maybe you’re unsatisfied with what you ate. If you ate a couple hours ago, have something light to eat to get yourself to the next meal – like an apple with peanut butter, or veggies and hummus.
When you initially get away from diet culture, it can be scary. You can feel lost and simply don’t know what you’re doing because you’ve been told misinformation for years or possibly decades. Right now, I could lose a lot of weight and fast – but it would be damaging to my body and mind – and it wouldn’t be sustainable, so as soon as I started eating normally again, the weight would start creeping up and I’d likely be in a worse position from where I started.
This is where a food diary comes in handy. Record what and when you ate and how you felt immediately after as well as how long it kept you full. This way you can monitor what works with your body and lifestyle and you can learn to create effective meal planning specific to you. Get on Pinterest and look at variations of your regular meals – for example, I have chia pudding for breakfast, so I like to go onto Pinterest to look at variations. I don’t mind eating the same things day after day, but having variety keeps you from getting bored as boredom usually leads to binging.
What I do, is I try to plan for a full month. I have a day planner that I put my meals into and I create a grocery list specific to the week. It helps, not only the planning of each week, but budgeting as well. I may need to go to the grocery store at some point during the week as I may have forgotten something or I needed something fresh, but 95% of my grocery shopping is done on the weekend.
The important thing is to find something that works for you – and nobody should tell you otherwise unless you specifically hire a nutritionist. If you do work with a nutritionist, they should be able to provide you a breakdown of nutrients, caloric intake specific to your needs, explain anything you’re uncertain of and they work with your lifestyle and give you options if you simply don’t like something.